No matter what happens in the upcoming election, what the previous four years have demonstrated is how freakin’ effective the right has been at creating an infrastructure that ensures systemic misogyny and racism.
And they’ve revealed how bad the progressive movement has been at matching it/dismantling it.
Not like the right didn’t have a model already in place to do that. Because it did. (see: human enslavement, Antebellum South; Civil War; Gilded Age; Jim Crow era, e.g.) But what happened in the 1960s is that the GOP hitched its wagon to theocratic authoritarians and then created a massive right-wing infrastructure/alternative world that you’ve all hopefully seen in action with the current administration and now can grasp what we’re all facing, and what the right has been up to for the past few decades:
–a judiciary hostile to civil rights
–the gutting and destruction of public education
–the routing of unions and workers’ rights
–rampant voter suppression through things like gerrymandering and ID laws
–media empires designed to spread specific messaging and fear
–expansion of corporate power
–gutting of environmental protections
–the rise of theocratic authoritarianism
–the gutting of rural America
All of these things are interrelated.
And none of what’s happening in this country came out of nowhere, if you’ve been paying attention.
The current administration is a handy vehicle for this infrastructure — a symptom, not a cause of the current horribleness. The right has been trying to destroy institutions in this country for many decades, and the activists and advocates who believe in it are patient and very good at playing a long game (something progressives could do well to learn). Since the 1960s, especially, the New Right has managed to create a network of organizations, think tanks, networks, media empires, and funding streams, and they’re active in all levels of government domestically and internationally.
They’re also active internationally via a vast network of NGOs and they’re active in the UN and other international bodies. They’ve created a network of organizations whose sole mission is to bring lawsuits before the federal courts and Supreme Court (and comparable courts abroad) in order to enshrine discrimination against, for example, LGBTQ people, against reproductive healthcare, and to ensure voter suppression. The courts have been a crown jewel for the right, and now here we are with over 200 appointments during the past four years to the federal judiciary of judges — many of whom are woefully underqualified for these lifetime appointments — whose sole purpose is to carry out the mission of the right.
And the right is incredibly effective at galvanizing voters, at getting people into the political process early — it’s not an accident that almost every state has a right-wing think tank/organization (most of them have the word “family” or “policy” in their names) that does nothing but work to influence and create state-level legislation and policy. They also conduct political trainings for young people and many other kinds of trainings to get people involved in the political process and to nurture and groom candidates for political office. And they have the funding networks to get those candidates before the public and to create messaging.
The right builds activists and advocates, and has been showing up to civic engagement and the political process for decades. They’ve built a massive machine, that progressives are culpable in aiding. There’s no comparable progressive network of state-level think tanks like what the right has. Progressives ceded local and state politics to the right, and local and state officials are the ones who most directly affect your life.
The thing is, democracy is not a one-off thing you do every 2 years or every 4 years. Voting is super-important, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle. If you want to build better and equitable systems, you have to show up every day. You have to stay engaged; you have to learn how things work so you can do better through activism and even running for office; you need to understand what these networks are and what they’re doing; and you have to hold your local and state officials accountable.
There is no “hero.” There is no “savior” to get us out of this mess, and lots of progressives seem to fall back on that old trope, that someone or something will somehow right the system and we can all go back to living our lives. Look back over the last four years. The savior trope has been Mueller; it’s been Pelosi; it’s been impeachment; it’s been the media finally doing its job once in a while and revealing some of the dirty networks the current administration engages in — but things haven’t really changed, have they?
The only heroes in this story are people who understand that if they want to create a better world, they have to do more than just show up to vote every once in a while. Every little bit you learn about civic engagement is hero’s work. Every time you call a local official asking for accountability is hero’s work. Every time you show up to a meeting of city or county officials to learn more about local policies is hero’s work. Every time you show up to meetings of local organizations that work to make more equitable communities is hero’s work. Every time you volunteer at a polling place is also hero’s work, and every time you engage your kids, friends, family, and neighbors in learning about local and state issues is hero’s work. Every time you write an editorial to your local news sources calling attention to something that strikes you as unethical, wrong, inequitable is hero’s work.
And every time you stand up for someone, every time you donate time, money, energy to community organizations trying to make your community and the world a better place is hero’s work. Every time you check in on your neighbors and offer to help out is hero’s work.
Every time you spread kindness — and do not ever mistake kindness for weakness — that’s hero’s work, too.
Hero’s work, like democracy, is an ethos. It’s a commitment to build community in both small and large ways, to stay engaged, to stay connected and involved. It’s the old mantra, “think globally; act locally.” It’s every small act you do to humanize yourself and others, to ensure you’re not engaging in misinformation, to put in the time to familiarize yourself with your communities, to build allyships, to be an ally for those who don’t share your privilege whatever it may be.
So the only heroes in this story are you and every small act you do to think globally and act locally, to be a friend, ally, neighbor. We are all accountable for what’s happening, and it’s up to us — not some distant, out-there figure or event — to build the equitable communities we’d like to see and dismantle the systemic racism and misogyny all around us. It’s going to take time. We’re playing catch-up against an embedded, powerful machine. But nothing worth fighting for is simple or easy.
So dig in and get to work. Cuz this shit is, again, just beginning. And the world needs communities of people willing to do the work to make change on whatever level they can. That’s you, my friends. Let’s do this.
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Reading List: Know the networks and understand what’s happening:
This is just a super-short list of books and articles to help you start understanding the nature of the machine we’re up against. The more you know, the better equipped you’ll be to counteract these networks and the laws and policies they’re trying to put in place. We can’t afford to keep looking away or to not read this stuff or dig into it because “it’s depressing.” Knowledge is power, friends. Grow yours.
Adam Cohen, Supreme Inequality: The Supreme Court’s Fifty-Year Battle for a More Unjust America (2020)
Nancy MacLean, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America (2018)
Anne Nelson, Shadow Network: Media, Money, and the Secret Hub of the Radical Right (2019)
Sarah Posner, Unholy: Why White Evangelicals Worship at the Altar of Donald Trump (2020)
Jared Yates Sexton, American Rule: How a Nation Conquered the World but Failed Its People (2020)
Katherine Stewart, The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism (2020)
Chrissy Stroop and Lauren O’Neal, eds., Empty the Pews: Stories of Leaving the Church (2019; Stroop is part of the “exvangelical” movement and is a historian and activist speaking out against religious authoritarianism)
American Constitution Society — “Dark Money and the Courts: The Right-Wing Takeover of the Judiciary“
CNN — “Meet OAN, the little-watched right-wing news channel that Trump keeps promoting” (2020)
The Guardian — “Project Blitz: The legislative assault by Christian nationalists to reshape America” (2019)
The Guardian — “This is Sinclair, ‘the most dangerous US company you’ve never heard of‘” (2018)
The Guardian — “How a data-backed Christian nationalist machine helped Trump to power” (2020)
The Guardian — “The multimillion-dollar Christian group attacking LGBTQ+ rights” (2020)
Mother Jones — “Inside the right-wing YouTube empire that’s quietly turning Millennials into conservatives” (2018)
New Statesman — “Who are the Federalist Society? Inside the right-wing group picking Trump’s Supreme Court judges” (2018)
The New Yorker — “The Growth of Sinclair’s Conservative Media Empire” (2018)
Politico — “Why There’s No Liberal Federalist Society” (2019)
Slate — “The Frightening Power of the Home-schooling lobby” (discusses the Home School Legal Defense Association, a right-wing group that is dismantling regulations on homeschooling; 2015)
Organizations that provide info like this and that work for equitable communities:
American Constitution Society
Center for American Progress
Media Matters for America
People for the American Way
Political Research Associates
Right Wing Watch